Downey council OKs expansion at space center

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By Arnold Adler

Contributing Writer

DOWNEY — Plans are under way for an addition to the Columbia Memorial Space Center, which will house the space shuttle mock-up named Inspire, plus other space exhibits and offer a community meeting room and a classroom.

The City Council Sept. 28 contracted with the firm of LPA Inc. for a fee of $397,000 to design the future Space Shuttle Exhibit and Education building and later provide construction services.

Funding will come from a $5.8 million grant from the California Natural Resources Agency, said Benjamin Dickow, president and executive director of the space center.

Design is expected to take about 10 months, he said.

“Size and height of the addition will be up to the architect,” Dickow told a reporter. “I estimate we will need a 15,000- to 20,000-square foot structure.”

Besides the mock-up, built by Rockwell International in 1972 and used for training purposes; the addition will include a flexible main floor which will accommodate up to 300 guests to view presentations with the latest in audio-visual equipment,” Dickow said in a report to the City Council.

Rockwell, under contract to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, constructed the space shuttles Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour during the 1970s at its Downey facility on the site of the Space Center, now called Discovery Park, on the northeast corner of Imperial Highway and Lakewood Boulevard.

“The main floor of the addition, also will be large enough, when cleared of mobile exhibits, to offer 5,000 to 7,000 square feet of space for traveling exhibits, including large artifacts,” Dickow said, adding that might include a model of the Mars Rover or the space-flown Dragon capsules.

“In addition, the building will serve as the showcase for some of the Space Center’s own unique collection of artifacts, including becoming home for the largest item in the collection, Inspiration,” Dickow said.

Since the Columbia Center opened in  2009, it has aimed at giving area youngsters a hands-on experience to interest them in space, technology and science.

It has invited teachers to bring their students free of charge.

Dickow described the Space Center as “a space museum and hands-on science learning center with a mission to ignite a community of creative and critical thinkers.

“Over the years, the Space Center has seen its annual attendance grow to nearly 100,000 people, becoming a key center of education and community engagement in the Los Angeles region,” he said.

He also noted that the center is aimed at preserving the memory of the crew of the Columbia Space Shuttle, which, after 27 missions to space, exploded Feb. 1, 2003, upon reentry, killing its nine-member crew.

The center has a new virtual exhibit dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the Columbia Space Shuttle.

Current hours are noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

General admission is $5 per person, $3 for senior citizens. Children under 3 are admitted free. Students and teachers also are free under past admissions.

The current Space Center offers robotics and the Challenger Learning Center, which offers a virtual trip into space.

It was installed with funds from families of astronauts who died in an explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986.

Other services include an early childhood learning program.

For information on the center, visit www.columbiaspacescience.org.

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